Your strategic plan is not working and you are wondering why

Digitalization with respect to private pensions is the reorganization of pension business and service delivery using Information and Communication Technologies to create digital relationships between the Trustee and the Contributor/Client (T2C);
Kofi Anokye OWUSU-DARKO (Dr)

Have you ever encountered the following organisations before? – a) an organisation that has a strategic plan but no one seems to locate where it is; b) an organisation that the staff do not even know there is a strategic plan; c) an organisation that has a strategic plan document that seems like it has just been adopted from another organisation in the same business but names just replaced; d)an organisation that has a strategic plan but the staff do not even believe it can be operational; or e) an organisation that everybody seems to be seeing the strategic plan document for the first time.

If you have ever encountered this then it is most likely that the strategic plan document was prepared by an expert consultant with knowledge in that particular industry and most likely it was required for a particular purpose: to raise funds, for regulatory compliance, or just required because an organisation must have one. Obviously, the organisation itself does not believe in it.

This expert approach of preparing a strategic plan is quick, an easy lazy option and less expensive initially by way of the man hours needed in preparing it. Overtime it has proven to be expensive, not helpful and it is just filed – made to gather dust to be shown to whoever requests for it. No return on investment.

How, then, can an organisation have a strategic plan that is executable? Let us start from the not too helpful ways, the known, which most of us seem to be familiar with to the unknown – helpful ways which may seem alien, in getting a working, operational strategic plan done. It is all about the process not the content.

The not too helpful way

An organisation gets an expert consultant with knowledge in that particular industry or who has done a similar job for another organisation to put together a strategic plan to seek a banking, pensions, and insurance license from the regulator or to raise funds from investors or a loan from a bank.

This expert approach has some positive sides. It is quick in getting the document together with less resource allocation in terms of staff man hours and productive hours needed in the preparation stage. The difficulty with this approach is that the consultant must have in-depth knowledge of the industry and have industry information readily available. In fact, that is why the consultant is being engaged anyway. The general staff are not involved, just top level management ‘the strategic thinkers’ so-called. Basically the consultant uses what I will call a desktop approach, by just putting together what the top management want in a structured way, with nice diagrams and colours, or what he/she thinks the company should be doing based on what he has previously done and knows from research.

Once the document is completed it is then presented to staff through workshops for implementation and that is when the disconnect takes place, and they start ‘punching holes’ into the plan because they do not even think it is their organisation the plan is talking about. What they see is the executives or most often the managing director of the organisation dictating the direction the organisation should take, and no input from them. The document is not communicating or resonating with them, hence, to the staff, the strategic plan is not implementable and they would not use it. This is termed ‘Strategic thinking sitting at the top’. A situation of strategising autocratically at the top and wanting to implement democratically with staff. End result is a strategic plan document gathering dust, money wasted, the organisation having no direction with no internal capacity built for the future to develop another plan. Any review will require engaging the external expert consultant again and the cycle continues same way.

In effect what the expert consultant has is a hammer so everything has to fit into being a nail. The peculiar nature of the organisation, especially with respect to its culture and competences is ignored. The consultant in this case behaves like a football coach whose tactics is 4-5-1 and uses it for any team ignoring the sort of players the team has that can fit that tactics. The players, individually good as they are become frustrated, the team is burnt out and the coach puts the players on transfer. Ironically, these players end up with another team and they are high fliers.

Most often any engagement with promoters or directors of the organisation will easily show how ignorant they are about the document that has been prepared. If the directors have no idea, you can imagine the rest of the staff. What has gone wrong is not necessarily the document, but the process and this is why your strategic plan is not working. What can be done?

The helpful way

Strategic planning is a process that needs to be embarked on by all internal stakeholders, and depending on the organisation, some external stakeholders – that is those that have interest in the success of the organization – need to be consulted in order to properly align the vision and mission of the organisation with the environment in which it operates to have the needed strategic fit. A process that must involve those close to the business so that at the end of the process any document produced will be a cross functional living document that everyone approves of, willing and able to execute. The staff need not read the document, they know it, live it and as they say, no one argues with their own data.

The helpful way is where the organisation gets a consultant with expertise in the strategic planning process who may have little or no knowledge in the particular industry. This persons is more of a process and change management consultant rather than an industry expert consultant. This approach is most relevant and helpful for existing organisations where explicit, implicit and tacit knowledge unique within the organisation can be harnessed by way of knowledge of the internal strengths, aspirations and intended results, customers, market in which the company operates, as well as the efficiency of its internal and external processes. This approach is an opportunity for the consultant to take advantage of the knowledge that exists within the organisation beyond what is documented in policies and manuals.

A situation of strategising democratically with all staff and implementing autocratically from the top once the plan was agreed by all. End result is a working strategic plan document with ownership, and the organisation having direction. Most importantly the process consultant would have built internal capacity within the organisation during the planning process that the next strategic plan can be internally developed without any external consultant. Money would have been well spent in the long term, having built internal consultants for future reviews. You have a living document.

A typical planning period could take five days with as many functional staff that is possible across the organisation, especially including union staff. The difficulty with this approach is that it is time consuming with respect to staff time and man hours away from the day-to-day job schedules but pays off in the long run. The problem and solution as they say lies with the people but most organisations have employed staff who just bring out the problems but refuse to use them for the solution.

The question is how can we take all these people off their schedules for five days, residential in a hotel or resort somewhere? It is too expensive. Yes, you can get the staff out, the organisation will not ‘die’ and also an opportunity to trigger the contingency plan of succession planning to know if the organisation has a good team B on the bench ready to take over. Also yes, it might seem expensive now but the failure cost of a non-workable plan would be more devastating in the future.

The intrinsic benefit after the planning process is that staff will be communicating better, having quality strategic conversations, relating better with each other with an improved team-spirit needed in the execution of not only the strategic plan, but the day-to-day operational work. If union staff are included, which they should be, the quality of management-labour conversations will be significantly enhanced. In fact, the life and culture of the organisation will never be the same again.

To get the most benefit from this approach, however, the organisation should have an achievement or at least a supportive organisational culture, and staff must be self-motivated with an intrapreneural mindset to get the most out of this helpful experience.


The strategic planning process is an intervention and an experience, but not an event. A strategic plan prepared by an expert consultant is the quickest option if you want a document for a purpose and you do not have the luxury of time, but if you need a living document, your best option is to get a consultant who understands the strategic planning process to facilitate the staff of the organisation to produce a plan using the knowledge within the organisation. There is so much tacit knowledge not being harnessed in organisations.

The process consulting, the helpful way, instead of the expert consulting approach – the not too helpful way, will build internal capacity for the next plan or review to be developed by the staff themselves. A little sacrifice of man hours now for about five days to involve staff in the strategic planning process will give a long-term value for money as against the desktop plan by the expert consultant. You might think it is expensive getting staff out of the office for about five days to plan, but remember preventive cost is cheaper than failure cost, and there is the added advantage of having a more collaborative and energised team.

Any organisation that intends to uncover the circumstances of the past, to learn the significance of its existence, search for options that are feasible, doable and within their capabilities must involve the workers in the plan of action to prepare them for the execution of the document. It is better strategising democratically and once the roadmap has been collectively agreed, implement autocratically; than strategising autocratically at the top and wanting to implement democratically – which is what most organisations do, hence, their strategic plans do not work.

The author holds a DBA in Leadership & Organisational Change, is a Certified Management Consultant & Organisation Development Practitioner. A Mediation ADR student with Gamey & Gamey. (Contact: [email protected])

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